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Backchecking: No one knows what it's like to be traded better than former NHLer Brent Ashton

The Hockey News
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Brent Ashton. Author: The Hockey News

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Backchecking: No one knows what it's like to be traded better than former NHLer Brent Ashton

The Hockey News
By:

Getting a call from a GM typically meant it was time for Brent Ashton to pack his bags. After all, he was traded eight times.

By Joshua Kloke

Players looking for advice on dealing with trade deadline fallout should call Brent Ashton. After all, he was dealt a remarkable eight times over his 14 NHL seasons.

Ashton began his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks in 1979 after going 26th overall in the 1979 draft, then was shipped to the Colorado Rockies two years later. From there, Ashton’s rollercoaster of a career took off as he would play for four teams in the four seasons to follow.

The shock of getting dealt never became easier to get used to as he moved from team to team in the ’80s. He dealt with the trades using a simple approach: become a chameleon. “It’s all about adapting to a team,” said 55-year-old Ashton, who now works as both a real estate agent and runs a sportswear company in Saskatoon. “That’s the thing that’s probably the hardest for many players: you get traded to a team, you don’t quite fit in and it doesn’t work out for you.”

Ashton adapted by putting himself at the mercy of his new coach. Whatever role they put him in, he accepted. “(Coaches) control your destiny most of the time,” he said.

So too do GMs. Before the days of trade rumors swirling in the media, the surprise of being traded was very raw. Ashton would have to pick up and leave the day he’d get the call, and landing in a new city was something he never warmed to. “It’s never fun living in hotels for six weeks, then trying to find a place to live,” he said. “A lot of times you’re traded for another player, so you can just switch houses.”

Ashton’s career took a turn for the better when he was dealt from Minnesota to Quebec in 1984-85. He had spent the majority of his time on Minnesota’s fourth line, scoring only four goals in 29 games. After the deal, he earned the trust of Nordiques coach Michel Bergeron and moved to the top line and power play unit, scoring 27 goals in 49 games.
The mid-’80s represented the height of Ashton’s offensive output, but the trades didn’t stop. In 1986-87, Ashton was dealt to Detroit. He scored 40 goals that year and played with Steve Yzerman just as his star was on the rise. If you run down the list, Ashton spent time with some of the most gifted players of his time: Yzerman, Peter Stastny and Dale Hawerchuk.

It was when he was shipped from Winnipeg to Boston in 1991-92 that he suited up with Ray Bourque, who remains the player Ashton considers himself the most fortunate to have played with. “It’s not until you actually play with a player that you realize how much he really cares for his teammates,” Ashton said. “And how much he goes out of his way to make you feel part of that team.”

He was traded one last time to Calgary in 1992-93. By the end of that season, Ashton was just shy of his 33rd birthday.

He admits now that without an agent, he wasn’t properly represented entering 1993-94. With no contract, he waited for a call during training camp that never came. After 16 games with the International League’s Las Vegas Thunder, Ashton was done.

But every season, when trade deadline day comes, Ashton recalls one of the eight times he was dealt. Just as he kept his head down and kept adapting through every trade, his advice to players to avoid being traded is quite simple: “Make them tear the jersey off your back.”

This is an edited version of a feature that appeared in the March 7 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

 

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Backchecking: No one knows what it's like to be traded better than former NHLer Brent Ashton